In the winter of 1943, residents in and around the town of Hanford, Wash., were given checks for the values of their homes by the US government and asked to leave the area. Uncle Sam needed the site for a wartime mission: producing plutonium for the Manhattan Project -- the research endeavor that produced the world's first atomic bombs. Hanford was chosen because it was away from major population centers and had an ample electrical supply in the form of the nearby Grand Coolee Dam, and water supply thanks to the Columbia River.
Now, a window from the Hanford plutonium production site will go up for sale as part of British auction house Bonhams' "History of Science" auction on October 22 in New York.
The window, which measures about 54x36 inches with a thickness of 6 inches, contains 70 percent lead oxide. The unusually high concentration of this material protected scientists from radiation as they observed the production of plutonium at Hanford. It also gives the glass a unique yellowish glow.
"Due to its high lead content, it reacts more like a metal than a glass, crumbling when ground or cut, and sweating like ice when heated," the auction house's website says of the item. "Emitting an eerie yellow glow, it evokes the material's atomic origin. Despite the material's provenance, the glass is not radioactive."
The yellow glow is helped along by three LED lights mounted in an antique wooden cart on which the 1,500-pound slab of glass sits.
"The Manhattan Project is known as the most ambitious weapons program in human history," said Cassandra Hatton, senior specialist in charge of the History of Science sale. "It harnessed the intellectual powers of some of the greatest minds of our time, including Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi to name but a few. This window is a symbol of that project, and the dual ingenuity of man -- the creative on one side, and the destructive on the other. It is a truly incredible piece."
Bonhams expects the window to command between $150,000 and $250,000 at the auction, which features science memorabilia collected through the ages -- including an Apple-1 computer that "is one of 50 hand-built for the ByteShop by Steve Wozniak in the summer of 1976 in Steve Jobs' garage (or possibly bedroom)." That little trinket is expected to bring up to $500,000, so if you're just rich -- but not super rich -- it'll have to be a window into the Atomic Age for you.